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The Holy Spirit enlivens and animates the Church

Catechesis by Pope John Paul II on the History of Salvation
General Audience, Wednesday 8 July 1998 - in English, French, German, Italian, Portuguese & Spanish

"1. “If Christ is the Head of the Church, the Holy Spirit is her soul”. So said my venerable Predecessor Leo XIII in the Encyclical Divinum illud munus (1897: DS 3328). After him, Pius XII explained that in the Mystical Body of Christ the Holy Spirit is “the principle of every vital and truly salvific action in each of the Body’s various members” (Encyclical Mystici Corporis, 1943: DS 3808).

Today we would like to reflect on the mystery of Christ’s Body which is the Church, inasmuch as she is enlivened and animated by the Holy Spirit.

After the Pentecost event, the group that gave rise to the Church profoundly changes: at first it was a closed, static group of “about a hundred and twenty” (Acts 1:15); later it was an open, dynamic group to which, after Peter’s address, “were added about three thousand souls” (Acts 2:41). The true newness did not consist so much in this numerical growth, however extraordinary, but in the presence of the Holy Spirit. A group of people is not enough to form a Christian community. The Holy Spirit brings the Church to birth. She appears — to use a happy phrase of the late Cardinal Congar — “entirely suspended from heaven” (La Pentecoste, Italian trans., Brescia, 1986, p. 60).

2. This birth in the Spirit, which occurred for the whole Church on Pentecost, is renewed for every believer at Baptism, when we are immersed “in one Spirit” to become members of “one body” (1 Cor 12:13). We read in St Irenaeus: “Just as flour cannot become one loaf without water, so we who are many cannot become one in Christ Jesus without the water that comes from heaven” (Adv. Haer., III, 17, 1). The water that comes from heaven and transforms the water of Baptism is the Holy Spirit.

St Augustine states: “What our spirit, i.e., our soul, is for our members, the Holy Spirit is for Christ’s members, for the Body of Christ which is the Church” (Serm. 267, 4).

In the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council returns to this image, develops it and explains it: Christ “has shared with us his Spirit who, being one and the same in head and members, gives life to, unifies and moves the whole body. Consequently, his work could be compared by the Fathers to the function that the principle of life, the soul, fulfils in the human body” (Lumen gentium, n. 7).

This relationship between the Spirit and the Church guides us in understanding her, without falling into the two opposite errors already pointed out by Mystici Corporis: ecclesiological naturalism, which is limited to the visible aspect and so regards the Church as a merely human institution; or the opposite error of ecclesiological mysticism, which emphasizes the Church’s unity with Christ to the point of considering Christ and the Church as a sort of physical person. These two errors are analogous — as Leo XIII had already stressed in the Encyclical Satis cognitum — to two Christological heresies: Nestorianism, which separated the two natures in Christ, and Monophysitism, which confused them. The Second Vatican Council offered us a synthesis which helps us grasp the true meaning of the Church’s mystical unity by presenting her as “one complex reality which comes together from a human and divine element” (Lumen gentium, n. 8).

3. The Holy Spirit’s presence in the Church enables her, despite being marked by the sin of her members, to be preserved from defect. Holiness not only replaces sin, but overcomes it. In this sense, too, we can say with St Paul that where sin abounds, grace even more abounds (cf. Rom 5:20).

The Holy Spirit dwells in the Church not as a guest who still remains an outsider, but as the soul that transforms the community into “God’s holy temple” (1 Cor 3:17; cf. 6:19; Eph 2:21) and makes it more and more like himself through his specific gift, which is love (cf. Rom 5:5; Gal 5:22). Love — the Second Vatican Council teaches in the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church — “governs, gives meaning to and perfects all the means of sanctification” (Lumen gentium, n. 42). Love is the “heart” of Christ’s Mystical Body, as we read in a beautiful autobiographical passage of St Thérèse of the Child Jesus: “I understood that if the Church had a body composed of different members, the most necessary and noble of all could not be lacking to it, and so I understood that the Church had a heart and that this heart was burning with Love. I understood that it was Love alone that made the Church’s members act, that if Love were ever extinguished, apostles would not proclaim the Gospel and martyrs would refuse to shed their blood.... I understood that Love included all vocations, that Love was everything, that it embraced all times and places ... in a word, that it was eternal!” (Autobiographical Manuscript B, 3vº).

4. The Spirit who dwells in the Church also abides in the heart of every member of the faithful: he is the dulcis hospes animae. Following a path of conversion and personal sanctification, then, means allowing ourselves to be “led” by the Spirit (cf. Rom 8:14), letting him act, pray and love in us. “Becoming holy” is possible if we allow ourselves to be made holy by him who is the Holy One, by docilely co-operating with his transforming action. For this reason, since the primary objective of the Jubilee is to strengthen the faith and witness of Christians, “it is necessary to inspire in all the faithful a true longing for holiness, a deep desire for conversion and personal renewal in a context of ever more intense prayer and of solidarity with one’s neighbour, especially the most needy” (Tertio millennio adveniente, n. 42).

We can think of the Holy Spirit as the soul of our soul, and thus the secret of our sanctification. Let us dwell in his powerful and discreet, intimate and transforming presence!

5. St Paul teaches us that the indwelling of the Holy Spirit within us is closely connected with Jesus’ Resurrection and is also the basis of our final resurrection: “If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit who dwells in you” (Rom 8:11).

In eternal happiness we will live in the joyful fellowship that is now prefigured and anticipated by the Eucharist. Then the Spirit will bring to full maturity all the seeds of communion, love and brotherhood that have blossomed during our earthly pilgrimage. As St Gregory of Nyssa says, “surrounded by the unity of the Holy Spirit as the bond of peace, all will be one Body and one Spirit” (Hom. 15 in Cant.).

After the Catechesis, Papa Giovanni Paolo II greeted the pilgrims in various languages:

J'accueille avec joie les pèlerins de langue française. Je salue cordialement les étudiants orthodoxes de la Faculté de théologie de l'Université Aristotele de Thessalonique, accompagnés de leur doyen, le professeur Sotirios Varnalidis. Que votre visite à Rome conforte votre volonté d'annoncer aux nouvelles générations le Christ, unique Seigneur et Sauveur du monde ! Aux étudiants-lycéens venus de Corse avec leur Évêque Mgr André Lacrampe, je souhaite d'être des témoins toujours plus ardents du Christ parmi les jeunes. À tous, je donne de grand cœur la Bénédiction apostolique !
I welcome the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors, especially those from Latvia, Japan, Scotland, Canada and the United States of America. Upon all of you I cordially invoke God’s blessings of joy and peace.
Mit diesen Gedanken grüße ich alle deutschsprachigen Pilger und Besucher. Besonders heiße ich die Gläubigen der Pfarreien Langenlois und Stinatz sowie die Jugendlichen willkommen. Euch allen und Euren Angehörigen zuhause sowie den über Radio Vatikan und das Fernsehen mit uns verbundenen Gläubigen erteile ich von Herzen den Apostolischen Segen.
Saludo cordialmente a los peregrinos de lengua española, en especial al grupo de sacerdotes de la Archidiócesis de Valencia que festejan en estos días sus 25 años de ordenación: os invito a renovar día a día la gracia que recibisteis. Un cordial saludo para los numerosos fieles de las diócesis de Andalucía y Canarias, que acompañan a sus Obispos en la visita Ad limina. También para los directivos de la COPE, que esta vez han querido celebrar su Reunión anual en Roma como expresión de afecto al Papa: os animo a colaborar fielmente en la misión de la Iglesia a través del importante medio de comunicación que es la radio. Así mismo saludo a los participantes en el Curso de Formadores del Movimiento Regnum Christi y a los demás peregrinos de España y América Latina. A todos os imparto de corazón la Bendición Apostólica.
Amados peregrinos do Brasil e doutros países de língua portuguesa, as minhas boas-vindas a todos vós, com votos de que esta peregrinação a Roma seja ocasião para uma maior consciência e escuta do Espírito Santo, o doce hóspede das vossas almas, que vos fará fortes na fé e corajosos no testemunho cristão. A minha Bênção desça sobre vós e sobre a vossa casa.
Traduzione italiana del saluto in lingua croata

Cari Fratelli e Sorelle, lo Spirito di Dio conduce l’umanità verso la salvezza e prepara la seconda venuta di Cristo, distribuendo in abbondanza i suoi molteplici doni per l’utilità comune di quanti sono stati battezzati nel nome del Padre, del Figlio e dello Spirito Santo. La sua forza promuove pure lo sviluppo della costruzione e il rinnovamento del Corpo Mistico di Cristo, la Chiesa, ed anche il bene dell’intero mondo.

Saluto cordialmente i fedeli della Parrocchia di San Pietro Apostolo a Split e gli studenti della Scuola Media Superiore di Zabok. A tutti imparto la Benedizione Apostolica.

Siano lodati Gesù e Maria!
Traduzione italiana del saluto in lingua ceca

Cari giovani pellegrini provenienti da Prostejov e dintorni!

Domenica scorsa si è celebrata, da voi, la festa dei Santi Cirillo e Metodio. Questi due evangelizzatori recarono un significativo contributo alla odierna cultura europea. Possano essi diventare per voi una guida all’instaurazione di una “civiltà della pace e dell’amore”, che deve nascere dal cuore di ogni singolo cristiano.

Con questi voti vi benedico di cuore.

Sia lodato Gesù Cristo!
Traduzione italiana del saluto in lingua slovacca

Cordialmente saluto i pellegrini slovacchi da Lefantovce e Topolcany, da Krásno e Brezovicka, da Banská Bystrica e Bratislava, da Brestov, Mirkovce e Šarišské Bohdanovce.

Domenica avete celebrato in Slovacchia la festa dei vostri evangelizzatori, Santi Cirillo e Metodio. Sono contento che non dimenticate di ringraziare per il prezioso dono della fede, che loro vi hanno portato. Coltivate questa fede nella vita privata e pubblica. Così l’avvenire delle vostre famiglie e della vostra nazione poserà su fondamenti solidi.

Di cuore vi benedico. Sia lodato Gesù Cristo!
Traduzione italiana del saluto in lingua slovena

Benvenuti i professori, studenti ed amici del ginnasio classico di Celovec in Austria.

Possa la visita alle testimonianze della cultura romana nonchè ai monumenti cristiani arricchirvi intellettualmente e confermarvi spiritualmente nell’amore verso Dio e verso la Sua Chiesa.

Con questo desiderio vi imparto la mia Benedizione Apostolica.

* * *

Rivolgo ora un cordiale saluto a tutti i pellegrini di lingua italiana, in particolare alle Suore Francescane di sant'Antonio che, in occasione del loro Capitolo Generale, hanno voluto rendermi visita per rinnovare al Successore di Pietro i loro sentimenti di devozione e di profonda comunione ecclesiale. Con grato affetto le esorto a perseverare nella corrispondenza al loro carisma originario, per recare con efficacia il messaggio evangelico alla gente di oggi.

Saluto i partecipanti al Meeting di Missiologia, promosso dal Centro Internazionale di animazione missionaria della Pontificia Università Urbaniana e formulo voti che si preparino a diffondere con coraggio e gioia il messaggio della salvezza agli uomini del terzo millennio.

Il mio pensiero va, poi, ai fedeli della Diocesi di Lugano, che hanno compiuto un pellegrinaggio in bicicletta a Roma, ed auspico che, anche da questa esperienza, possano trarre stimolo ad una più fervorosa preparazione all'Anno Santo del Duemila.

Un pensiero tutto speciale dirigo ora ai sacerdoti che partecipano al corso di aggiornamento per Rettori ed Educatori di Seminari Maggiori diocesani. Carissimi, vi assicuro la mia vicinanza spirituale nel vostro importante lavoro a servizio della Chiesa. Alla luce degli insegnamenti del Magistero ed attenti alle esigenze del nostro tempo, siate sempre formatori vigili e preoccupati di stimolare, sostenere e preparare secondo il cuore di Dio i candidati al sacerdozio affidati alle vostre cure.

Rivolgo, infine, il mio cordiale pensiero ai giovani, agli ammalati ed agli sposi novelli.

Lunedì scorso abbiamo celebrato la memoria liturgica di santa Maria Goretti, vergine e martire. Cari giovani, l'esempio di questa vostra coetanea sia per voi stimolo ed incoraggiamento a coltivare un cuore puro, libero e aperto ai perenni valori del Vangelo.

La fortezza dimostrata da questa fanciulla davanti alla prova del martirio sia per voi, cari ammalati, sostegno nell'affrontare la sofferenza per amore del Signore.

L'eroico amore a Dio, fedele fino alla morte, di cui santa Maria Goretti ha offerto esemplare testimonianza, illumini la vostra unione coniugale, cari sposi novelli, perché intraprendiate un cammino familiare rispettoso della legge di Dio e dei suoi provvidenziali disegni di salvezza.

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